December 29, 2005


Growing Japanese Isolation: Koizumi's Obsession with the Past Makes for an Uncertain Future (Wieland Wagner, 12/28/05, Der Spiegel)

Go to the movie theater in Japan these days and one of the more popular choices is a film about the country's past -- about a past Japan just can't seem to shake. The plot centers around a group of exhausted soldiers battling a vastly superior squadron of American aircraft. A scene of spurting blood, massive and deafening explosions and clouds of smoke marks the sinking of the "Yamato," then the world's largest battleship, in the Pacific Ocean, together with its crew of about 2,500 sailors. The message of the film -- that Nippon's heroes in World War II did not die in vain -- is hard to miss. And it's one that finds resonance with the Japanese public.

The battle portrayed in the film happened 60 years ago. In an attempt to delay an American invasion of the Japanese homeland, the Japanese military command sent the "Yamato" to an almost certain demise off the coast of Okinawa. The suicide mission created a long-lasting myth of heroic sacrifice for the fatherland, a myth that has never failed to get the Japanese reaching for their handkerchiefs.

This wartime tearjerker is symptomatic of a year in which Japan has marked the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and of the ensuing American occupation. It was also a year made conspicuous by the lack of remorse the Japanese have shown for the atrocities they committed against their Asian neighbors -- and for the country's enthusiastic commemoration of the fallen soldiers of the former Japanese empire. Indeed, mindless sacrifice seems to have become a virtue -- one which many in Japan credit for its dramatic rise out of the ashes of World War II.

And the past is increasing in relevance in Japan recently. Once again, Japan feels it is surrounded by enemies. This time, though, the adversary isn't the United States -- on the contrary, America as an ally has become more indispensable than ever. Rather, the rising global power China is making Japan nervous, as is the former Japanese colony Korea.

The strongest relationship they've ever had with America and the recognition that China and the Koreas are enemies (the South because it increasingly appeases the North)--where's the downside here?

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 29, 2005 11:10 AM
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